Jack Roosevelt Robinson, born at the end of World War I that ended on November 1911 with some 50 million human beings killed in Africa, Asia and Europe. Jackie came to life in the first month of year 1919 in generation number 64 birthed by generation #63 mothers in Christ, ... that devoted energies and talents to generating a new Negro to generate opportunities for themselves and others among "the least of us." His life's story can be told many different ways and we believe he was chosen for a purpose, ... not simply to play hardball on and off the field or our entertainment.
A less spiritually inclined view is that Jackie was born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919, the youngest of five children of Jerry and Mallie Robinson. He grew up in Pasadena, California and lettered in football, baseball, basketball and track at UCLA. He was widely regarded as the finest all-around athlete in the United States at that time, perhaps with the exception of his older brother Mack, ... his childhood coach.
Even before the Olympic Games of 1936 in which Jesse Owens embarrassed race theorists about inherent inferiority and superiority of certain people, ... entities like the Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper were convinced such 19th century rationalizations were a threat to all people of African heritage anywhere. Editor/owner/attorney Robert L. Vann and others like A. Philip Randolph believed correctly that athletic competition and the military (not more visible arts and artists) were means to debunk notions that Blacks were inherently inferior to Whites. It was not enough to write and publish for others to read and hopefully be inspired to act. They knew pretentions of a Harlem Renaissance was a make-believe wonderland to be enjoyed, ... but would change nothing in the attitudes of matters that mattered most in American culture of men that cared more about wars and sports than music and dance.
Enlightened and educated Black and White men understood that baseball is a game of not only amazing skills but also intellectual ability to do under an equally complex set of rules, relationships and procedures. It is more than a game, ... it is Americana in which errors and failures are recorded, and both winners and losers are judged by the content of their character. The game cannot be played by one's self or without an ability to get along with others in order to get up to bat. It is not a game easily understood or supported by welfare mothers, and the results of mass inferior attitudes are self-evident.
Integrating amateur and professional baseball leagues across America was a goal long before integration of American schools. Indeed, after the 1936 Olympics, many Negro League owners like Gus Greenlee of Pittsburgh sponsored competitive non-league games between White major league players and all-Black teams. And, both White and Black owners agreed, ... won some and lost some!
By the time Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, ... Jackie Robinson was 22 years age and primed for a calling not only into the United States Army but also into the movement by Vann and others to prove that Black men could perform equally to performances of White men. The newly use of a nation-wide IQ test of millions of young as the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) quickly proved that differences resulted from education levels not heredity. Over 12 million young men, including some one million of African heritage, ... were tested and inducted fit for military service including those gifted and talented enough to be officers, fly and repair aircraft, master artillery use and even serve aboard submarines.
African-American leaders like A. Philip Randolph were determined that unlike the 300,000 Blacks conscripted into World War I, ... those to serve in World War II should be treated differently and not loaned out to foreign nations for labor service and other non-military work-loads. They demanded and received promises from the White House and War Departments that civilian equal opportunities would be afforded in war industries and Blacks qualified such as Jackie Robinson would be accepted and trained to become officers.
Becoming a military officer was an easy task for Jackie who excelled and sailed through the Officer Candidate School, ... but moving about in a ruthlessly racist south was not so easy. Most Black soldiers stationed with him, officer and enlisted, ... agreed that many if not most White southerners in Margaret Mitchell's Georgia were more hostile to Blacks than Germans were toward Jews. Most White law enforcement officers throughout the south, even in times of war, ... were adamant and outspoken against existence of Black officers in the U.S. military and did not hesitate to arrest and even brutalize Black soldiers and sailors who violated local laws and ordinances.
Italian and German prisoners of war being escorted and guarded by African-American military police were consistently treated better by White Southerners than their Black guards. Jackie witnessed real southern restaurants in Atlanta that would admit prisoners, ... but not their guards forced to stand outside awaiting return of men they were responsible for guarding. Southern customs and officers in the U.S. Military generated a work-around-the-problem solution by requesting local White civilian law enforcement officers to guard prisoners of war when they entered public places, like restaurants and toilets, that Blacks could not legally access.
Thousands of young Black men were still being shackled to forced labor chain gangs for trumped up charges such as "reckless eyeballing." His stay therein confronted him with the realties of what "the least of us" outside American military installations in the south had to endure even when serving the cause of liberty for others. Second Lieutenant Jackie Robinson was court-martialed (found not guilty) for essentially the same offense by Rosa Parks in the next decade using public busses in the Jim Crow southlands, ... and it helped prepare him spiritually to comprehend the battles still ahead.
The hot war waged by the world's great powers (that killed 50 million people including 10 million Germans, 20 million Russians, millions of Asians and even 400,000 Americans) ... ended and an iron curtain descended in Asia and Europe primed to fight a new war among old allies with millions of young men whose duties would be "not to ask why but to do or die." In a very real way the Cold War generated opportunities for change that benefited African-Americans. The Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe led by the Soviet Union demonstrated an ability to put over 20 million young men under arms to fight and defeat North Atlantic Treaty Nations of Western Europe led by the United States and Great Britain.
To face the threat, America and the British Empire, at a minimum needed access and loyalties of all its military age young men in the long-term planning years of 1946-1966. In raw numbers, NATO nations would need at least 10 million young men to just to stop an attempted movement by Warsaw Pact nations to over-run Western Europe. Conscription provided access to needed human resources, ... but attitudes of Black men in Africa, Canada, the United States and Caribbean willing to serve and die for America or Britain had hardened during the great wars in first half of 20th century. The new generation (#65) of young men born 1920-1949 demanded long denied Christian respect and treatment given to others such as former enemies like the Germans and Italians.
After three years in the Army, he played with the Kansas City Monarchs of the American Negro Leagues in 1945. Later that year, in a historic move that ended decades of discrimination against blacks in baseball, he signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. After a successful season in 1946 with its farm club, the Montreal Royals, he became the first black player in the Major Leagues, ... since nineteenth century when racism gave rise to not only the Ku Klux Klan and re-segregation in America but also copy-cat attitudes in Europe against Africans, Gypsies and Jews as so-called mongrel races.
Pentagon planners simply could not plan for gifted and talented youth like Jackie Robinson to continue being second-class citizens assigned to segregated military divisions needed to be trained and prepared for first-class performance. Mountains of data and first-hand observations during World War II by both civilian and military policy-makers confirmed that a continued segregated military service system would be increasingly unmanageable and not sustainable. Extensive testing, evaluation, training and observation of Jackie Robinson during three years of documented performance of other men like his Robinson cousin in the Tuskegee Airmen program,
... made it irrational for enlightened and otherwise educated Christian policy-makers to continue existing policies of racially segregated armed forces. Within the military itself, there were some White general officers such as Lucian Truscott, a descendent of Martha Jefferson, ... who openly proclaimed that a segregated military was not good for America. Most others including Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur remained silent about realties of racism, while the soldiers' soldier General Omar Bradley quietly opposed planning to desegregate the armed forces. Yet, they all knew and marveled at public acclaim being afforded the performance of Jackie Robinson on and off baseball fields of dreams where public opinion is molded about who is superior and inferior among men.
There is no question that majority American public attitudes among both Whites and Blacks would have decidedly slanted to long-held beliefs that Black men were inferior by heredity. The only post-war movie produced about Black men in World War II "Home of the Brave" depicted subject to be a coward shocked into good health by a White doctor calling him the N-Word. Most White sports and editorial writers agreed that Black men lacked the courage, intellect and tenacity to compete with White men. Before Jackie, ... it was not unusual to hear African-American critics explain that Black men did not have the experiences or skills to "hit major league pitching."
By the time Jackie Robinson was twenty-five years of age he was playing professional baseball for famed Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. By age 26, he was recommended by Black baseball league owners to be first African-American called up to the White major leagues, ... in order for him to pave way for many others to follow. Men like Gus Greenlee recommended him to the Brooklyn Dodgers not simply because of his abilities to play the game but more importantly the contents of his character. First and foremost he was not a womanizer and hard drinker, nor was he uneducated, fearful or hateful of White folks. Black baseball fans literally helped fill the ball parks to see Jackie play, ... and major league owners counted integrated ticket sales as generation of something good for themselves and the Negroes to follow after Jackie.
It is still amazing that so many African-American scholars skip over and ignore the realities of what would have occurred in the 1940s if men like Jackie Robinson had failed to perform as they did, in and out of the military services. Fact number one that Truman's Executive Order to integrate the armed forces as America's first post World War II civil rights action, ... would never have been issued. And, Jackie's distant cousins like Frank Robinson would never have gotten the call to be the best they could be. Indeed, African-Americans leaned on Jackie for much more than scholars seem willing to acknowledge. He knew what we expected of him and with wife Rachael's help, proceeded to do it faced with power curves and strikes lesser men and women would never try.
Perhaps his greatest homerun occurred when called before the Congressional Un-American Activities Committee to answer accusations the twelve million African-Americans in the United States were somehow being seduced by communism. Jackie's suspected distant cousin Paul Robeson via prior generations of slavery had praised the Soviet Union for being less racist than America.
Robeson's remarks to mass media prompted an uproar in former rebel states like Georgia where racial laws and ordinances were most clearly visible and enforced ranging from water fountains and other public accommodations, ... to much more important matters such as voting rights, employment and hostile local treatment of military service members, professional athletes and even entertainers who just happened to be Black. Born again Southern Baptist preachers and teachers whose ancestors had betrayed the United States Government had the audacity to preach and proclaim that African-American descendents of people their ancestors had fought to keep enslaved, ... were less patriotic than they were?
The appearance of Jackie Robinson before Congress forced the American media to research and write about him as a man, not simply a star baseball player who was the first of his race to enter major league competition. In doing so they had to divulge for the politicians and public what Jackie had seen and heard in his lifetime. Major media for the first time had to write about the ugly side of people claiming to be Christian patriots but nevertheless not acknowledging it among others who were "the least of us."
We believe the courts martial of Jackie Robinson in Georgia very much helped prepare him for the role and calls he would later receive, after baseball career, from below the cotton curtain and Dr. Martin Luther King. When the calls came Jackie was ready to step up to bat, pigeon toes and determined to do his best for "the least of us."
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